Tag Archives: colorado river

Hance in the Grand Canyon

Hance Rapid3

Hance Rapid at Mile 76.5 stands sentinel at the Colorado river’s entry into the Granite Gorge. The river drops 30 feet as it passes through a natural constriction formed by the Red Canyon. The dark dike cutting through the red Hakatai Shale is one of the most photographed features in the Canyon.

I found out more about the man the rapid was named after:

John Hance (1840 – January 8, 1919) is thought to be the first non-native resident of the Grand Canyon.

John Hance_cr

He opened the first tourist trail in the canyon before the canyon was a national park, giving tours of the canyon after his ca.1866 attempts at mining asbestos failed. “Captain” John Hance was said to be one of the Grand Canyon’s most colorful characters, and one early visitor declared that “To see the canyon only and not to see Captain John Hance, is to miss half the show.”

Hance delighted in telling canyon stories to visitors, favoring the whopper of a tale over mere facts. With a straight face, Hance told travelers how he had dug the canyon himself, piling the excavated earth down near Flagstaff (thus ‘explaining’ those mysterious then-unexplained dirt piles).

Flagstaff SanFranciscoPeaks

John Hance died in 1919, the year the Grand Canyon became a National Park, and was the first person buried in what would become the Grand Canyon Pioneer Cemetery.

(from wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and archive.org)

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In May 1891 one Charley Greenlaw wrote this in John Hance’s guestbook:

I can cheerfully say that this, the Grand Canon of the Colorado River, is the grandest sight of my life. As I noticed in this little book of Capt. John Hance, a great many people say indescribable. I can say nothing more. It is beyond reason to think of describing it in any way. You must see it to appreciate it. A grand sight of this kind and so few people know of it. By accident I formed the acquaintance of two ladies en route to the Grand Canon. I joined them. We have enjoyed our trip; the stage ride from Flagstaff to the Grand Canon is grand. Good horses, competent and accommodating drivers. I have seen the Yosemite, have visited California several different times, in fact seen all the principal points of interest in the United States, but the most wonderful, awe-inspiring piece of Nature’s own work is this, the Grand Canon of the Colorado River.

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Another entry by J. Curtis Wasson told of the twelve hour stage coach journey after alighting from the Santa Fe Railroad Company’s train:

From Flagstaff at 7 o’clock a.m. our stage and six goes out.

Arriving at Little Springs Station, where a new relay of six horses is added, we make haste until the half-way station is reached, passing through a fine unbroken forest of Pinus ponderosa, quaking aspen, balsam fir, and spruce. The open forest, the waving grasses, the gorgeously colored mountain flowers, the occasional chirp of the forest songsters, the ice-cold springs traversing our smooth compact road, the peaks, clear-cut and massive, towering up nearly 14,000 feet into the blue above, the low rumbling of our great Concord stage, the sound of two dozen hoofs, the sharp crack of the driver’s whip, the clear, bracing atmosphere, every breath of which seems to stimulate, the indescribably beautiful Painted Desert outstretching for a hundred miles to our right.

stagecoach2

One fain would linger on scenes like these but we have arrived at Cedar Station, and after partaking of a very refreshing luncheon we are given a new relay of horses and hasten over the desert portion of our ride to Moqui Station, where another relay is provided, which takes us to the hotel at the rim of the Grand canon, where we arrive at 7 o’clock p.m.

Leaving our Concord stage, giving our grips to the porter, not even waiting for “facial ablutions”, we hasten across the yard and up to the rim of the canon, when, looking over — the Chasm of the Creator, the Gulf of God, the Erosion of the Ages, that Erosive Entity, that Awful Abyss, lies in all its awfulness before us, — awful, yet grand; appalling, yet attractive; awe inspiring, yet fascinating in its greetings.

Grand Canyon South Rim

Panoramic view of Hance Rapid:

Hance Rapid

coach pic from wildwesthistory.blogspot.com

 

Lee’s Ferry across the Colorado River

Lee’s Ferry on the right bank of the Colorado River, just above the mouth of the Paria River, at an elevation of 3,170 feet asl is the site of the start for most river trips through the Grand Canyon.

Originally called Lonely Dell by Mormon church-man with 19 wives and 67 children John D Lee, who established the ferry in 1872, it provided the only access across more than 300 miles of river for many years. Actually one of Lee’s 19 wives, Emma ran the ferry for a number of years while he was on the lam – hiding from the law for his leading part in the wicked 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre.

The massacre near St George, Utah involved a group of emigrants known as the Fancher Party trekking west from Arkansas who were camped at Mountain Meadows in southern Utah preparing for their final push across the Mohave Desert when they were attacked by a group of Mormon Militia who disguised themselves as Native Americans so as to cowardly deflect blame for the attack.

It was a time of great tension between Mormons and the rest of the United States, and the massacred party was most likely attacked because they were not Mormons.

After an initial siege, the treacherous Lee approached the emigrants saying he’d negotiated safe passage for them with protection from their supposed Native American attackers if they surrendered their weapons. The group agreed, whereupon the militia proceeded to kill all but the children under 8 years of age.

One hundred and twenty men, women and children died that day. For almost two decades, the incident was covered up, but in 1874, Lee was brought to trial. Never denying his complicity in the massacre, Lee did insist – probably correctly – that he was acting on orders from high up in the church. He was the only one of about fifty men involved in the massacre to be brought to book. He was convicted and executed by firing squad in 1877.

His widow Emma Lee sold the ferry in 1879 for 100 milk cows to the Mormon Church who continued to operate it until 1910 when it was taken over by Coconino County, Arizona. The ferry stayed mostly in use until 1929 when the Navajo Bridge was completed. Ironically, the ferry was used to ship much of the material to build the bridge that put it out of business.

1984: There was only one bridge when we crossed to the right – or ‘north’ (rivers only have left or right banks – think about it) – bank of the river. It was completed in 1929. A larger parallel second bridge was added in 1995. The bridge we crossed is now used for pedestrian sight-seeing.

Now: To make sure there are no misunderstandings, our John Lee on the 1984 trip down the Colorado is a good ou who, at that stage, had zero wives:

John Lee

 

Down the Grand Canyon

1984 was one of the very few years since 1960 that Colorado river water from the Grand Canyon actually reached the sea. High snow melt pushed it past the point where golf courses and old-age homes drain it of all its water and so – at last! – the waters of the Colorado reached the beautiful estuary at Baja California and flowed into the Sea of Cortez again!

Unknown to many, 1984 was also the ONLY year Mexico would have been able to taste Mainstay cane spirits (distilled from South African sugar cane) mixed with Colorado river water. Well, recycled Mainstay and river water, as the Mainstay had first passed through the kidneys of a mad bunch of South Africans that Chris Greeff had assembled to paddle through the famous American Canyon.

That’s because we were on the river sponsored by Mainstay Cane Spirits and South African Airways. The “Mainstay” we drank was actually an SAA Boeing 747’s supply of tot bottles of whisky, brandy, gin, vodka, rum – and Mainstay cane spirits. We decanted all the little bottles we could find into two-litre plastic bottles to help the stewardesses on board with their end-of-Atlantic-crossing stock-take. We had resolved to drink the plane dry but man, they carry a lot of hooch on those big babies (I spose in case they end up with all 350 passengers happening to be as thirsty as paddlers are?).

Fifteen paddlers from South Africa joined our guides Cully Erdman and his delightful partner JoJo on a trip down the Grand Canyon from Lee’s Ferry to the take-out on Lake Mead 300 or so miles downstream. We were accompanied by one other paddler, an Argentine José who was ticking off his bucket list, having climbed Everest. Five rubber inflatable rafts carried the food (and the Mainstay and a few hundred beers) and a motley assortment of rapid riders from America and SA. Talking of motley: Us paddlers ranged from capable rough water paddlers to flatwater sprinters to happy trippers to complete novices. Some had Springbok colours, others had a lot of cheek.

GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (48)

GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (8)
Cully shows us. He has done it before.
GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (30)
Herve, George & Jojo

Some twists in the tale: My boyhood kayaking heroes had been the van Riet brothers, Willem and Roelof, who won the Dusi three times just as I was first learning about the race ca 1970. As I started to participate in the race ca 1972 Graeme Pope-Ellis was winning the first of his eventual 15 Dusi wins. Both Willem and Graeme were with us on this trip.

Another twist: In the year I first saw the Colorado river (1973) by walking/running down the Bright Angel trail from the South Rim to the Colorado’s swiftly-flowing green water (see post), Willem had launched a boat at Lee’s Ferry, done an eskimo roll and come up with ice in his hair, causing him to postpone his trip. Now he was back, eleven years later – in the summer!

The trip was put together by yet another iconic paddler Chris Greeff, winner of more kayak races than I’d had breakfasts. One of the craziest races he won was the Arctic Canoe Race on the border between Finland and Sweden. About 500km of good pool and drop rapids in cold water. When he arrived at the start with his sleek flatwater racing kayak (the others had wider, slower, more stable canoes) the local organisers thought Ha! he intends portaging around all the rapids! (they’d heard of the Dusi and how mad South Africans run with kayaks on their heads) so they amended the rules: Every rapid avoided would incur a time penalty. Chris just smiled and agreed enthusiastically with their ruling: He was no Dusi runner and he had no intention of getting out of his boat!

Later:

On the trip our American kayak and raft guides kept asking us about our sponsors stickers we had attached to kayaks and rafts. SAA they understood, South African Airways, but what was this “Mainstay” stuff? Ooh. you’ll see! Was all we’d say.
At ___ rapid on Day __ around the camp fire we hauled out three or four two-litre bottles filled with a suspicious amber liquid. THIS we said, was that famous stuff! Hilarity and a bit of insanity ensued. I remember seeing Willem sprint past me, run nimbly across the pontoons of a raft and launch himself in the darkness into the swift current of the Colorado running at 50 000cfs!

GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (65)
George, Allie, Swys & Toekoe

1984Grand Canyon (1)At the confluence, the Little Colorado was flooding and massively silt-laden. We stopped on a skinny sandbank and had mud fights and mud rolls. The muddy water from the flooding Little Colorado merged with the clear water coming out of Lake Powell and from here on we had traditionally red-coloured water – “colorado”. I fell out just downstream and got some of that muddy water up my snout. A month later I had to have an emergency sinus washout! As Saffeffricans say ‘Ah neely dahd!’

Foreground and background: Muddy Little Colorado. In the middle: Clear water from Lake Powell:

GrandCanyon'84 Greeff Confluence (1)

Lunch on a small sandbank – Five rafts, seventeen kayaks

Lunch on a small sandbank, Colorado River, Grand Canyon - Five rafts, seventeen kayaksGrand Canyon Chris 2Grand Canyon Chris Crystal-001
Crystal Rapid Colorado.jpg
Here comes Crystal!
Jannie Claassen stands. Clockwise from front Left: Swys du Plessis (red shorts), Me just visible, Dave Walker back left, Willem van Riet, Herve de Rauville kneeling, Alli Peter lying down in back, Chris Greeff ponders, Bernie Garcin stands behind Chris, Wendy Walwyn, Cully Erdman (our guide) is front right. All poring over the map, plotting the next day!
Jannie Claassen stands left. Clockwise from front Left: Swys du Plessis (red shorts), Me just visible, Dave Walker back left, Willem van Riet, Herve de Rauville kneeling, Alli Peter lying down in back, Chris Greeff ponders, Bernie Garcin stands behind Chris, Wendy Walwyn, Cully Erdman (our guide) is front right with the peak cap. All poring over the map, plotting the next day! Willem telling us about the MOERSE rapids he went through.

?Me and trip girlfriend Wendy in foreground

Bernie Garcin – great mate; – – and WHAT a campsite!

Bernie Garcin - great mate; - - and WHAT a campsite!!

Happy daze drifting in the current, lying back gazing up at the cliffs and watching the waterline as century after millenium of geological lines rose up out of the water and each day rose higher and higher above us. Willem the geologist would explain some of it to us.

Then you’d sit up and listen intently. Then peer ahead with a stretched neck and drift in a quickening current as the roar of the next rapid grew in the canyon air. The river was running at an estimated high 50 000cfs (about 1650 cumecs). Once you could see where it was, you pulled over and got out to scout it. Plot your way through it.

Here’s Lava Falls – *click on pic* Spot Ryan’s blue helmet. He got trashed.

Lava Falls

At the usual take-out (Diamond Creek) before Lake Mead the high water had washed away the road. We had to keep going. Then we hit the calm waters of Lake Mead. Paddling was almost over (for most of us!). We lay on the rafts as they were tugged out by a motorboat to another take-out point on Lake Mead many miles downstream (‘cept there was no longer any ‘stream’ – we were on flat water now). Greeff and a few other crazies (including Wendy Walwyn) paddled the whole flat water way!

The Mainstay SAA Team from SA; At the usual take-out before Lake Mead; Paddling is over (for most of us!)
Singing:

The canyon burro is a mournful bloke
He very seldom gets a poke
But when he DOES . .
He LETS it soak
As he revels in the joys of forni- CATION!

and (to the tune of He Ain’t Heavy)

Hy’s nie Swaar nie

Hy’s my Swaer . a . a . aer

We went down the Canyon twice

I always say we did the Canyon twice. Once we would bomb down in our kayaks, crashing through the exhilirating big water; The second time was much hairier, with bigger rapids, higher water and far more danger: That was when Willem would regale us with tales of his day on the water around the campfire at night. “Raconteur” is too mild a word! The word MOERSE featured prominently in his stories.

Messing about in Boats

THIS IS A ROUGH DRAFT

The original quote is from Kenneth Grahame’s Wind In the Willows:
“There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

Motorboating
Dad built a wooden motorboat in our lounge ca 1959. Here’s what was left of the lounge around 50yrs years later (2007).

Speedboat built in the lounge

As far as I recall Dad used the boat just a few times on the Wilge River (“The Mighty Vulgar”) at Sunnymede.
Later he bought another – bigger – boat, it had a 50hp Mercury outboard. He soon sold that one to Harry Mandy for delivery to Richards Bay. I went along with Dad towing it behind the Morris Isis to Richards Bay. The Morris must have filled up at the back as at a re-fuelling stop Dad said “Come on! Hop in!” and I said, “But the boat isn’t hitched up” and he had to quickly hook up the trailer before we could go! I felt very important.I remember crossing an impressive high-arched bridge – probably this one across the Umhlatuze.

felixton-mill-nearbye-umhlatuze-bridge-3

pic: Hugh Bland kznpr.co.za

Sunnymede on the Wilge River, waterskiing behind Richard Scott’s boat.

Tabs’ Balmoral dam
His first little boat we fetched in Howick – On the way home a wheel came past us and we chuckled at “whoever it was”‘ misfortune. It was ours!

Battling to start the Johnson outboard in the Sarclet dam, we all took turns pulling the cord. EVENTUALLY it started, we all jumped aboard and promptly sank it!

Later Tabs got a bigger boat, ‘The Pheasant Plucker’ with a V6 inboard motor and a Hamilton jet – I embarrassingly beached it when the motor cut; Landed up high and dry next to the cars parked on the bank; There I met nursing sister miss sharp nipples.

Canoeing
The old weir on the Wilge river – shooting the old sandstone weir on tubes and our open red-and-blue canoe (didn’t realise then how dangerous that was!).
Pierre du Plessis and I paddled from town to Swiss Valley in our open red-and-blue canoe on my 15th birthday.

Swinburne to Harrismith down the Wilge River

– Once with Fluffy Crawley – very low level in our open red-and-blue canoe
– Once with Claudio Bellato – high level – both lost our spectacles – in an Accord K2 owned by the Voortrekkers, white fibreglass with green vinyl deck. We proceeded to wreck it in Island Rapid on Mrs and the Misses Jacobs’ farm. Had to pay for it. R50!

Charles Ryder arrives in Harrismith in a lime-green Volvo 122S. On his roofrack he had a  fibreglass Limfjorden 17’6″, glass cockpit, white vinyl deck, clear hull, wooden struts, crossbars and gunwales, brass handles.
I wrapped (‘wrecked’) it on the Wilge on the Jacobs’ farm Walton.
I then rebuilt it.
Trained for the ’72 Dusi on the mighty Wilge River. Then the boat disappeared! So I hitched to PMB to follow the Dusi. Later I found the boat submerged in the Kakspruit and reclaimed it.
One day I saw the late zoo warthog Justin floating feet-in-the-air downstream after the zoo closed down.

Before I knew the danger of creeks in flood, I took a short trip under the bridge on HS-Swinburne road N3, on the Swartspruit to test the Limfy (and me!) as it was running high – Mom took me in her car, trusting soul.

USA
1973 – Lake of the Woods near Quetico National Park, Ontario Canada in open ‘Canadian’ canoes. With Oklahomans Sherry Higgs, Dottie Moffett, Dale Moffett and Jonathan Kneebone from Aussie. The no-see-ems and mozzies drove us out after just one night!

Canoe Marathons
Dusi 1972 – My Limfy stolen in Harrismith, so no boat! Hitched to PMB with Jean Roux. Hitched a ride with someone’s second to 1st overnight stop at Dusi bridge; Hitched on to Diptank 2nd overnight stop; Slept in the open under the stars; On to Blue lagoon; Slept on the beach near Addington, then at Point Road police station (an eye- and ear-opener!).

Dusi 1976 – Drove down with Louis van Reenen in his blue VW Beetle. I had a white Limfy with a vinyl deck, he had a red all-glass Hai whitewater boat (small cockpit, rudderless) from Jerome Truran’s Dad in JHB! We tossed a coin and he won, so I seconded him driving his VW. We stayed in my orange puptent. It was a very high river – he swam and swam! But he finished, tough character that he was!

Dusi 1983 – at last I paddle the Dusi! White hulled Limfy with a red fibreglass deck. At the start I spied Louis, starting his second Dusi.

Umko 1983 – Hella Hella to Goodenough’s weir in my Limfy.

Berg 1983 in a Sabre – after (luckily!) training in ‘Toti with Chris Logan. Cold as hell! Freezing! Gail-force winds! Horizontal rain! Madness.

Fish 1983 (The second Fish) – In those days, the race was held on a much lower river (roughly half of the current level!) and it started with a very long first day (over 50km). The paddlers left the Grassridge Dam wall and paddled back around the island on the dam (the WORST part of the race for my hangover!!) before hitting the river, eventually finishing at the Baroda weir, 2,5 km below the current overnight stop. The paddlers all camped at Baroda overnight, before racing the shorter (33km) second stage into Cradock. “In those days the paddlers had to lift the fences, and the river mats (fences weighed down by reeds and flotsam and jetsam) took out quite a few paddlers”, said Stanford Slabbert (winner of the first Fish in 1982). “Getting under (or over) them was quite an art. I recall one double crew, the front paddler bent forward to get under the fence and flicked the fence hoping to get it over his partners head as well. It didn’t. The fence caught his hair and pulled him right out of the boat and they swam!”

Legends were already being born. Herve de Rauville stunned the spectators by pioneering a way to shoot Marlow weir. He managed to reverse his boat into the chute on the extreme left, and took the massive slide back into the river going forward, and made it!

The field doubled in 1983, as the word of this great race spread. 145 paddlers in 110 boats. It was won on debut by Joburg paddler Niels Verkerk, who recalls, “It was a very long first day, especially as the river was not as full as it is now (it was running at 17 cumecs in 1983). Less than half the guys shot Keiths flyover, which was not that bad as the hole at the bottom wasn’t that big. Very few people shot Cradock weir in those days. I won the race without shooting Cradock”, he added.

At a medium level, the lines at Soutpansdrift were also different. The weir above Soutpans was always a problem, as there was no chute, and even the pipes that created a slide down the weir face were not there yet. At the bottom of the rapid, the only line was extreme left, underneath the willow tree, and then a sharp turn at the bottom to avoid hitting the rocks, where the spectators gathered in numbers hoping to see you come short..

Crocodile 1984 (lowveld croc) marathon to Nelspruit.

Ocoee River in Tennessee 1984

Colorado river in Arizona 1984

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Other boats – I got a Sella – white deck, clear hull new from Rick Whitton at Kayak Centre.
Later I bought a second hand Jaguar (I think) at the KCC club auction.

Now have plastics – my old Quest, a Fluid Flirt, an Epic ? (bit bigger) and a Fluid Detox. Gathering dust.

Tripping
Wilge Swinburne – Harrismith
Wilge Harrismith to Swiss Valley (Near Nieuwejaarspruit confluence)
Vaal near Parys
Orange above Augrabies falls

In 1983 or 84 I bought a Perception Quest plastic from Greg Bennett at Paddlers Paradise – in the first batch he imported – for R525.
Tugela – Colenso to Tugela Ferry;
Tugela – Ngubevu to Jamieson’s – with Doug Retief, Dave Walker, Bernie Garcin

Umko – Mpendle – Lundys Hill
Umko – Lundys Hill – Deepdale
Umko – Deepdale – Hella Hella
Umko – Hella Hella – No. 8

Umzimkulu Hatchery to Coleford bridge

Lake St Lucia – Dukandlovu – Robbie Stewart, Bernie Garcin, and –?

USA – rented a Quest-like plastic
Ocoee river in Tennessee
Colorado river in Arizona (480km through the Grand Canyon). Got wonderful wooden paddle made in Canada: Hollow oval shaft at right angles, laminated blade kevlar-clad and teflon-tipped. Left feather, of course. Beaut! Still got one, gave Greg Bennett the other.

Vaal near Parys

Orange above Augrabies with Aitch (with some local outfitter).
Trip: We paddled in the Umfula’s store area for the last time before the Inanda dam flooded the Umgeni valley. I borrowed extra boats for friends, but we ended up walking it was so low!

Botswana – in borrowed plastic expedition sit-in kayaks
Thamalekane river – outside Maun, Botswana
Nhabe river in flood – we paddled the last 5 to 8 km into Lake Ngami and then back upstream to our vehicle.